Wednesday, January 28, 2009

GUEST BLOG: CLARION THE FIRST-- PETER M BALL

It's Clarion South time, and has been for a couple of weeks now, and I've had some vague, unformed idea about doing something to mark it-- after all, it only happens every two years, I had a blast, and I'm not likely to get asked back :)

So it's only fitting that I build a little shrine and paper it with hidden CCTV snaps of all my former students interfering with themselves in the shower when they think nobody is looking.

Or, I eventually decided, I could just ask them to guest blog their experiences. Which is less open to prosecution, and saves you from all those nekkid piccies of shower heads and loofahs and people accidentally falling on soapy objects and stuff.

So, for the next couple of weeks, twice a week, six of my former poops (If peeps is short for people, then surely the short version of pupils is poops, non?) will tell us about a week of their Clarion 2007 experience. I hope you enjoy. First off the mark, with his recollection of Week One (The Australian Rob Hood Show), is Peter M Ball.

Peter left Clarion and immediately started making a big splash. Appearances in markets as varied as Dog Vs Sandwich, Fantasy Magazine, and Dreaming Again have followed in quick succession, and he's widely considered by those in the know as Someone To Watch tm. The Last Great House of Isla Tortuga, his Dreaming Again story, received an Honourable Mention in this year's Aurealis Awards, prompting the juges to call it a thoroughly engaging story with crisp and enjoyable prose and vividly three dimensional characters. As a person he's funny, gregarious, and always, always one step ahead, as his LJ, The Fall of The House of Arwink, reveals.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you, Peter M Ball:

CLARION WEEK ONE

Later this year Twelfth Planet Press is going to publish my novella, Horn, which originally started life as the short story titled The Unicorn I wrote during the first week of Clarion. Our week one tutor was actually Rob Hood, but since my week one story was critiqued on the very first day I started worrying about the looming presence of our week two tutor, Lee Battersby, right from the outset.

It's hard to talk about The Unicorn without mentioning Lee, primarily because it was written in response to his prejudices against a particular fantasy trope. I won't tell the full story here, not least because Lee's already mentioned it back when the news that I'd sold the novella first broke, but the short version is pretty simple: One of my fellow students at Clarion was Lee's wife, Lyn. She was giving us tips on what not to write for week two, among them the advice Lee hates stories about unicorns and virgins. Don't write them. I'm not sure why, but I took that as a personal challenge – my story would have both unicorn and a virgin in it, and Lee would like it whether he wanted too or not. The idea that flowed on from there was a crossbreed of noir and horror, full of autopsy scenes and several less-than-savory characters.

Now, I've been known to lay some of the blame for Horn at Lee's feet as a result of that, and I gather Lee's pretty tickled by the way it came about too (even if he believes he needs to hunt me down and kill me before the nickname Unicorn Boy sticks). The reason I'm not going to dwell on the inspiration of the story is because it rarely gives kudos to the other Battersby who was instrumental in getting my random ideas about noir and unicorns off the ground – Lyn.

Lyn's a writer and a reader who isn't necessarily bothered when a story gets squicky. In fact, her week one story managed to make me profoundly uncomfortable in a way that good horror stories are meant too (but so rarely do). I respected her immediately because of that, and I knew I wanted to achieve a similar affect with my unicorn story. Writing the first draft The Unicorn turned out to be pretty brutal – it went to some places that turned out to be dark and uncomfortable for me to write – but Lyn remained the constant voice of encouragement who told me that there was nothing so dark it should be considered taboo. I think half the reason Horn has scenes as creepy or uncomfortable as it does is because trying to out-squick Lyn was as much a part of the challenge as writing something Lee would like (I achieved the latter, but I'm still not entirely sure I managed the first). During the writing process I'd keep coming out with these bizarre idea that I'd test on my dorm-mates, wondering if this time I'd finally gone too far, and every time Lyn told me to go back and write it (In fact, between the ideas suggested by Lyn and JJ Irwin, the squick quotient in one scene got much, much worse). It was the first time in a long while, perhaps ever, I felt like I was being pushed to write outside my comfort zone.

I have other fond memories of that first week– being introduced to the game Mafia, meeting a bunch of writers who fast became friends, and the look of sheer joy on Rob's face when the class gave him a Shaun of the Dead figure as a thank-you for his guidance – but I'll always associate that first week with Unicorns and squicky moments and emerging into our lounge room at 2 am to find someone willing to assure me that it's okay for a story to go places your uncomfortable with as long as it's both necessary and cool. For me, this is the strength of Clarion - it's a place where you're both supported by your peers and pushed to do things better all at the same time. I don't think I could have written the first draft of The Unicorn anywhere else, and I never would have turned it into a novella without the support and encouragement of many of the folks I met either at (or because of) Clarion South.


Tune in on Sunday, when The Patternless Man, Michael Greenhut, covers week 2.

2 comments:

readerofasaph said...

Clarion is...possibly I shall have the words to describe Clarion once the experience is over. *is just full of eloquence right now* Thanks for this series of posts; it's fascinating seeing the travails and triumphs of Those Who Have Gone Before.

*waves at Lee* Hi! Thanks for the recommendation; I haven't read those books, and do plan to read Motherless Brooklyn in particular, sometime soon.

...I'd really rather be Michael Chabon when I grow up, though.
- SL

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